• Wed March 12 2008
  • Posted Mar 12, 2008
MILWAUKEE: Richard "Dick" Burke, the founder of best-selling bicycle-maker, Trek Bicycle Corp., has died. Burke died Monday night at a Milwaukee hospital from complications from heart surgery, said his son, John Burke, the company's president. He was 73. In 1976, Richard Burke founded the company in a red barn in Waterloo, Wisconsin, about 30 miles(48 kilometers) east of Madison. Trek is known among cyclists for making the bikes that Lance Armstrong rode in his Tour de France victories. Those models feature carbon fiber frames and can sell for thousands of dollars. The company — known for brands including Trek, Gary Fisher, Klein and Greg LeMond — sells 1.5 million bikes a year and does $700 million in sales. "He always wanted to build the best bicycle company in the world and he did it," John Burke said. Burke was born in Chicago in 1934 and moved to Milwaukee when he enrolled at Marquette University. After graduating he worked for several companies including an appliance distribution business. During the bike craze in the 1970s, he realized there was a need for a higher-end builder of bikes in the U.S., his son said, because all the bikes in that segment were imports. He could not find any brands to distribute himself, so he started Trek. Although his background was in finance and credit, he decided to take the risk, his son said. "Every time he saw a Trek, he smiled," John Burke said. "He took a lot of pride in Trek." Burke told in an interview in July 2006 that the company built its first bike plant in 1980 and three years later sales were around $20 million (€13 million). "Some years we made money, some years we lost," he told the magazine. "Everyone looked on it as Dick Burke's Tonka toy." John Burke said the business went through some tough years but by the mid 1980s, it took off. It has gained fame among riders for its partnership with Armstrong. Burke said his father was in France for Armstrong's first Tour de France victory. The company now has a network of more than 5,000 dealers worldwide and 1,600 employees. The majority of its manufacturing is done in Wisconsin, with production of lower-end bikes in Asia. Burke was an avid runner who competed in five New York City Marathons and three Boston Marathons, his son said. But later in life he rode his bike quite a bit. Burke is survived by his wife Camille, five children and nine grandchildren.

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